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Drama at Daytona 500 pays off for Matt Kenseth

DAYTONA BEACH — After the puddles dried and the smoke cleared, NASCAR and Matt Kenseth claimed victories from the first prime-time Daytona 500.

Fox's telecast drew 36.5 million viewers — up 22 percent from 30 million last year — and gave the network its best Monday night rating since Game 5 of the 2010 World Series.

Sports talk radio buzzed Tuesday with NASCAR chatter after 30 hours of rain delays that pushed the race from Sunday afternoon to Monday night and a fiery crash and the two-hour-plus delay it caused pushed Kenseth's victory into early Tuesday.

Brad Keselowski picked up 140,000 Twitter followers after posting messages and pictures from his car during the crash delay, caused by Juan Pablo Montoya's collision with a safety truck and its jet engine.

But Kenseth was at the drama's center at the end, standing in the confetti at Victory Lane to savor his second Daytona 500 win.

"I can't believe we're standing here twice in one week," said Kenseth, who won the second qualifying race with his No. 17 Ford last week.

Kenseth took the lead for good on Lap 165 after three wrecks and three restarts, including the green-white-checkered finish. He survived charges from Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the race for the second time in four years.

"Matt Kenseth deserves this win," teammate Carl Edwards said.

Maybe after leading 50 laps in the wildest Daytona 500, Kenseth deserves to be considered among the sport's elite drivers, too.

Only nine drivers in NASCAR history have won its biggest race more than once. Jeff Gordon is the only other active driver with multiple 500 wins (three) and a points title, which Kenseth claimed in 2003.

"It's been quite a run," team owner Jack Roush said.

And it was quite a weekend for NASCAR. Rain caused the race to be postponed for the first time in its 54 years. The Monday night start was the 500's first in prime time. Then Montoya's crash while under caution, caused by a problem with his car, spilled 200 gallons of jet fuel onto Turn 3, sparked a huge fire and pushed the checkered flag into Tuesday morning.

"We have never seen anything like it," Tampa's Aric Almirola said.

The sport's biggest names struggled. Previous race winners Jimmie Johnson, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray and Gordon crashed or had engine problems. Accidents also involved defending Sprint Cup points champion Tony Stewart and rookie Danica Patrick.

"The thing that comes into my mind is that NASCAR can't catch a break," said Earnhardt, who finished second and had his losing streak move to 130 races. "We're trying to deliver, and we just have some unfortunate things happen such as the rain delay, potholes in the track a couple of years ago. We're a good sport, and we're trying to give a good product."

When the 500 finally ended, the two-week Speedweeks odyssey wasn't over: Fog closed the North Carolina airports, stranding drivers and teams at Daytona for yet another night.

"Now believe it or not I can't go home," fourth-place finisher Denny Hamlin posted on Twitter. "Fogged in. Yet another night in Daytona."

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Drama at Daytona 500 pays off for Matt Kenseth 02/28/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 10:33pm]
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